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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Tuesday, January 31, 2017


I plan to spend most of 2017 reprogramming my life--as you might have noticed. The idea here is not that everything is bad. In fact, I really began this process long before now, but now I am doing it in a much more systematic and deliberate way.

Change is possible. We know this, because people make deliberate, freely chosen changes all the time.  They become vegetarians, convert to a religion or out of one, learn a language. Even in the absence of deliberation, change occurs naturally, with biological life events and gradual shifts. Angry people can become more mellow, or more angry. Change is also neither good nor bad in itself. In other words, it is a fallacy to think that change always tends toward making things worse.

I don't imagine a cat or a tree makes New Year's Resolutions. The capacity to institute deliberate change according to a plan seems uniquely human. It seems that we should be taking advantage of that.

I suppose change could be threatening even if positive, because there is a certain comfort in familiar things even if negative. The main obstacle is not really wanting to change in the first place. Someone wanting to learn a language (they say) but is not willing to commit to memory a few hundred verb forms, or practice pronunciation for hours at at time by reading the Quijote aloud.

Change in behavior can affect the brain, which is much more "plastic" than we used to think. I closed my eyes this morning and played through one of my compositions, without any hesitations. Surely my brain must have grown new connections for me to be able to do this.

Habits are powerful.  But even good habits are "habitual," in the sense that if you always hold the door open for people, then you don't have to make deliberate decisions at each opportunity. That is just what you do. In the same way, I don't think the vegetarians have to exercise great will power at the meat counter. After a while, they just aren't there in the first place.

At the beginning, I will have to be more deliberate and less habitual in my actions. So I will have to make conscious decisions about things that later on might become automatic. I'm sure I'll not be making forward progress at every moment, and will relapse into old, non-productive patterns.  Bring it on.

Monday, January 30, 2017


This is a very important sense to have, in addition to the Aristotelian five senses.  Close your eyes.  Then grab your right earlobe or touch the heel of your left foot. How easy is that? Proprioception is basically the ability to know where your own body is situated in space, and the different body parts in relation to one another.

It is why you can be a blind pianist.  I can play the piano blind pretty well (almost as well as I can with eyes open, at least!) It allows you to go up or down stairs without looking down, or drink water with your eyes closed.  It is vital in many manual dexterity skills, where you don't consciously think of spatial relations but your body knows what to do (typing, driving).  

A New Way of Reading Poetry

As an offshoot of the life hacks, I have a new way of reading poetry.  I just take a book and read it all the way through, in order, aloud to myself.

This prevents nervous flitting from one poem to another.  Although loud reading is slower than silent reading, I can really get more read this way, and enjoy it more.

This is the only way, I think, to get through long 500 page books of Collected Poems.  It also works well for books that can be read this way at one or two sittings.

This does not take away from other reading practices, like memorizing one poem and living with it a long time.  Both reading sequentially and never going back and staying a long time on one poem involve acts of sustained attention.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

I like to sleep...

I like to sleep in the sun like a lizard

But the sun is a Winter one and I am inside

There is no inside for the sun, though it enters

As I go under several times, then up

Saturday, January 28, 2017


The lute lies rusted in its green case

odor of pines is synthetic; sweeteners artificial; even salt! 

our tongues crave something different

translators don't know languages; ignorant even of their own traditions

the policies of the state are greed, hate, ignorance


And my own work, what refuge can it offer

against the dull hell of other people's writing?

Projects half begun, never finished

Juvenile fantasies of jazz piano

And lipstick ladies? 

Lame parodies of Pound's Confucianism

& worse 

Addictions to self-improvement

And the memorization of Keats

Always under and overconfident at the same time

Even self-criticism inert, leading only

To more stupid bachelor breakfast tricks


False starts, sluggish or jerky

But amid sloppiness and incompetence

Something rising higher 

Not even transcending what's below 

That old sweet cadence


And what of the tunes that take shape under my fingers
as my sister loses speech, along with her own music

now calling everything music, even the rain flooding the yard
pointing it out urgently to me and saying the music

As though to compensate, preserve the symmetry of things
my brother and I started playing piano again

unknown to each other
There is no tone adequate here

clinical? certainly not lyrical
My flippancies fail me


And what of the sexual demon

the same at 55 as a 15? 


And the wordless melodies under my fingers, where do they come from,

Why do they satisfy an itch in my brain? 

Why won't words come along with them? 


The correct terminology makes the landscape limpid

We can breathe, finally; as though things occupied their proper place

But the Lydian mode makes me think of Lydia Davis

The Dorian mode of Doric columns

The penumbra of words, like Clark Coolidge inviting you into private

Head-spaces, yet you accept that bargain, somehow

To live among those textures for a while


Stochastic is a word whose meaning is veiled for me

I've looked it up before, but it does no good

I know the definition will never "stick"

I imagine it as something thick, dark, and mysterious

Legerdemain as well, it might be the protocol for an arcane ritual?

Are these really even words, or the product of my own dreams?

Others know words, their meaning and origins

I must be content with their penumbra 


Is that within the realm of the sudden?


I like to sleep in the sun like a lizard

But the sun is a Winter one and I am inside

There is no inside for the sun, though it enters

As I go under several times, then up


I've discovered a significant paradox, or at least a new, for me, articulation of a paradox that others may have been aware of.

Reading poetry requires negative capability, the ability not to grasp irritably after fact & reason, etc... like Keats said. You have to quiet the petulant child in you that wants answers quickly and that is intolerant of ambiguity.

And yet poetry is also a very precise use of language, very particular.  Perceptions about it must be very exact and fine-tuned.  As I said in my Arte poético, all sciences are physical.

So the resolution of this paradox: it must be more about perception than judgment.  Seeing what's really there, not trying to say what it really means.


My goal is to retire at 67 (in 11 years) to be a songwriter.  That will be my new profession, and I am planning to do it without any expectation of earning money at it, but treating is as my second profession. So between then and now I have to simply learn how to use the software, how to sing play well enough to convey my compositional ideas with some elegance (eloquence), how to be a disciplined lyric writer, and that's about it.


I don't have to write more books of literary criticism after I retire.  I''ll have said what I needed to say.  If not, too bad.  The world will survive. Well, it might not, but it will not because I didn't write another book on Lorca.  Lorca: The Decentered Subject, will be the last of six books I "need" to write.


After a conversation in my tertulia I decided to can the subtitle.  My fifth book will be What Lorca Knew, with no colon and no subtitle.  Because I can.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Space Clutter and Time Clutter

Meditation helps in reducing mental clutter.  If you are meditating you are dismissing many worries and concerns as not being all that significant, like 99% of smallish things we worry about.

Then getting rid of physical clutter will seem logical too, as a consequence. A lot of papers and small insignificant objects that need to be thrown away.  

Time clutter is checking emails, bank balances, Facebook statuses, or stock prices too often.

There is productive, creative clutter as well. But reducing the non-productive clutter will help here too. If you are creative you won't have to worry about being too neat, because some of the clutter will follow you around anyway.  I always have stacks of books following me everywhere I go: in my car, office, apartment.

Starving a habit

1.  Even a bad habit has some functionality.  (Even if a negative or illusory one. ) A bad habit "works" in some sense. It fills the time, or dulls the senses, or placates anxiety at some level.

2.  The bad habit is based on faulty cognition. False beliefs.  This comfort food will comfort me?

3. You can starve a bad habit, not by willing yourself into not doing it, but almost in the opposite way.  Imagine if you see it as a battle of wills, or a very strong temptation. Then, of course, you are defining it as something good, to which you are voluntarily saying no.  That would seem to be a losing battle,  because why deprive yourself of something so great?

4. You can starve it out only by seeing the attractiveness of good habits. Something must seem more attractive than the alternative.  What if playing piano will get you laid more than watching porn?

Secondary Benefits

Secondary benefits are byproducts of productive life habits. For example, suppose I start playing some etudes to increase my technical ability, but the whole time I am doing this I am also reading music and thus improving my reading ability on the side. Or if I join the choir for socializing and then also improve my musical ear. I clean my house to feel more at ease here, and the side benefit is ... a clean house. Funny how that works.

A negative activity is less likely to have a positive side effect.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Life Hack 25: Relapse and Exhilaration

I had two recent experiences. One, a feeling of relapse, that I was slipping back into bad habits. The thing to do here is to simply take the next day after that and resume the good habits again.  To feel super bad about the relapse is precisely what will make you give up completely.

The other was a feeling of exhilaration. I just felt super good one day. I wrote a poem early in the day, then I had my voice lesson at 9 a.m. and then just floated on air for a good part of the day. I had an egg in my jacket pocket (don't ask) which  broke and made a bit of a mess. I burst out laughing because it just seemed such a trivial, comical mishap, and so typical of my typical human foibles.  

 Exhilaration is not going to be the norm in most of your life. It is a very rare occurrence for me, for example. It happened to coincide with the inauguration so it wasn't at all justified in the larger scheme of things. It was simply a sign that my body was sending my mind that I was doing things that I should be.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Life Hack 24: Service to the Community

All the life hacks so far are about care of the self. Ultimately, though, it should really be about service to other people as well. If you are struggling with your own issues, you are going to be self-centered for a while, because you need to help yourself first.

For myself, the first thing I am doing is being a mentor to two students at my university through a program through the deans office.  I will see how this goes and then increase my service activities. The other thing I want to do is a poets in the schools thing.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Rilke Coolidge

If Coolidge can riff off Rilke why can't I?

I can hear melody in my head but the harmony is vague

I could be brilliant if they asked me

the exact, oddly specific question I had in mind

Life Hack 23: Freedom

In ways that are very mysterious, certain behaviors appear to be constrained rather than freely chosen.    The obsessive compulsive or the addict do not appear to be choosing their actions, any more, but acting on the basis of compulsion, even though the compulsion is coming from the self.

Habits that line up with important life goals, though, appear to be freely chosen. So if I know I must do something to achieve my goal, I will be acting freely.

The best way to eliminate bad behaviors is to simply eliminate the time in which they occur by doing something better in that time. You will experience a sense of freedom, even if you schedule your time quite rigidly, because you will have chosen things that line up with what you really think of as meaningful to you.

You cannot change your behavior by first waiting for your cognition to be in the perfect state. Instead,                  I suggest first changing the behavior, and letting your brain figure out the benefits later. The mind might very well be the weak link, here.  Bad behavior sends a signal to the mind to have bad thoughts.  With my two good friends who are zen masters (although I haven't spoken to them much about zen it comes up a bit in conversation in various ways), I have noticed that they emphasize the practice. That word comes up both as noun and verb.

Monday, January 23, 2017

the realm of the sudden

Is that within the realm of the sudden?

Life Hack 22: The Partner

The life hacks are for you, not to be better for your partner.  Yet...

If your partner loves you, she gains in a few ways from your improvements.

1) She gets a better you.  You are a more attractive person to her, because you have more going on in the positive dimension.

2) If she cares about you, she wants you to thrive.  She should be happy for you.

3) You are setting a good example.  You are a close-up model of what it's like to be living a good life.

Of course, if your partner is already doing the right things, then she will be a model for you as well.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Life Hack 21: Spiritual Practices

This terminology might be off-putting to you.  I suggest that you find another term that is your own, or that produces the effect that you desire.

What I am suggesting here is that certain things can be spiritual practices. By this I mean that they are non-trivial things that you are pursuing in a mindful way.  It could be listening to music, or having sex, or reading poetry, or meditating.  Don't be pretentious about it or anything. The point is not to make yourself seem superior to anyone else, but to bring things into proper focus. If you want to see something as a hobby, that is fine too.

If I view reading poetry as a spiritual practice, then when I write about it my writing will reflect this. The way I approach it will be different, and I will no longer care about certain things, like people who don't like the same poets I do. I won't have to force others to agree with me, or enforce arbitrary institutional frameworks. So if I am teaching poetry, I will be aware that what I'm teaching is only a little sliver of what poetry is, because I cannot even emphasize the reading of poetry as a spiritual exercise. That will make me less frustrated.

Saturday, January 21, 2017


1. I don't have everything figured out. I just know certain things are working for me. I am the last person you want to take life advice from, because I barely know how to live life. I am trying to figure it out as I re-program my entire life. If something resonates with you, fine, but this is mostly about my own situation.  

2. Mileage will vary. The point at which you start will be different from mine.

Physical Sciences: Arte poético

Vallejo used prose as a verb--"I prose these verses" (Coolidge too)

Translators won't follow him that far --cowardice or lack of wit?

All sciences are "physical"--I think--that is the mistake

All instances of narcissism are denunciations of it

Or is it all denunciations of it come from that same mind trap?

In a good mood as I pen murky thoughts

What I thought of as badness in poetry was actually freedom

To move around a bit as in a large, chilly, uncluttered house

Large enough for me, anyway

Life Hack 20: Against forced cheerfulness

"Cheer up" is not helpful advice. You cannot force it. Happy moments are not the result of someone deciding to cheer up, but of a happy confluence of circumstances.  Too much attention to ones mental states probably is not good either. You might notice that you are happy at a particular time, and usually it is because you are absorbed in doing something, not because you've looked inside, found yourself depressed, and decided to cheer up.

Positive psychology is fine, I guess, as an antidote to the idea that psychology should occupy itself with times human psychology goes wrong. Still, I prefer a more neutral approach, in which emotional states are not the main issue in the first place. What you should be concerned with most is whether you are doing what you are supposed to be doing in life,  not your moment-to-moment degree of contentedness.

Philip Lopate wrote an essay "Against Joie de Vivre."  To have a satisfying life you don't have to have joie de vivre in some exaggerated sense, making sure that everyone knows how much you are enjoying life.

It is often a good idea, though, to act half-way cheerful around people you meet in supermarket, etc... Not in an exaggerated way, but just to spread a little less dreariness around. If someone responds to your cheerfulness with a smile, then that will make you feel a bit better as well.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Life Hack 19: Managing Solitude

Loneliness is deadly, according to recent press reports. Social isolation is actually harmful to mental and physical health, much like smoking and obesity. Even convicts who suffer from the violence of other convicts dread solitary confinement. We know that this is one of the harshest punishments in existence that is not the infliction of serious physical pain. It is the confinement that makes it harsher, but the solitary aspect of it is also harsh.

So solitude, to be beneficial, must be managed.* And solitude does have benefits.  It fosters personal autonomy and freedom, one of the main needs for human beings. So solitude cannot be confining or limiting of freedom (as in the convict example.) Secondly, it must be used intelligently. Do you exercise alone and get enjoyment from being alone, or do you need to exercise in a group? Same for meditation.  Maybe you need to be in group meditation center and not all by yourself.  Do you need to write in a coffee shop where a friend might drop by unexpectedly, or are you a solitary writer?  You won't necessarily have the same example for each of these activities, but answering questions like this will help you. For years I ate meal out simply because eating by myself at home was intolerable to me. Solitude always requires you to be at home with yourself, something that is extremely difficult for me, although I am getting better at it.  If I want to play piano in the student union where people are around, I will do that.  Rarely will anyone stop by and comment on it, but just the few times it's happened were nice.

Solitude is also beneficial when it allows you to come into contact with nature.

If you aren't at peace with yourself, solitude can be horrible, and you will want to escape always in the company of other people or stupefy your brain somehow. When you do stay home, you might engage in more third tier activities and get more depressed and anxious. But if you practice being alone deliberately and do things alone that you enjoy, you will build a foundation for managing solitude.

Some bad ways of managing solitude: having the tv on at all times, with endless Law & Order re-runs running, doing endless sudoku puzzles on line, or hanging out on Facebook.  I've tried these and they are dead ends. The lonely person can become alcoholic in some cases, whether through drinking in bars or at home alone, or both. Wouldn't you like to stop by the bar on the way home from work on a typical night rather than facing an empty house?


*I am calling loneliness something that is experienced negatively, and solitude something that is a potentially beneficial practice with some inherent dangers.


Stochastic is a word whose meaning is veiled for me

I've looked it up before, but it does no good

I know the definition will never "stick"

I imagine it as something thick, dark, and mysterious

Legerdemain as well, it might be the protocol for an arcane ritual?

Are these really even words, or the product of my own dreams?

Others know words, their meaning and origins

I must be content with their penumbra

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Life Hack 18: Don't punt--unless you have to...

Suppose you had four strikes to strike out in baseball instead of three?  That would make pitching much more difficulty by reducing the number of strike-outs. Or four outs in an inning rather than 3? That would tip the balance toward offense.  

In football, you have four chances to make another first down. But the last chance is virtually worthless, most of the time, because teams typically kick it away to the other team. So a team that never punted would have four chances instead of three.  That is in increase of 33.33333333%! Put another way, on third down, you would now have two chances, or double the chance, of making a first down.  More than double, in fact, since the third down would get you a bit closer to the first line goal. So teams punt because of football convention, not because it is a good idea, most of the time. It is about minimizing harm rather than maximizing benefit, since, if you don't make it on 4th down, then you are giving the other team better field position.

I can see some places you should punt: when you are deep in your own territory and you would be giving them an automatic score, etc... Or at certain positions in the game clock, or if conditions are just right.  But just punting every single time on fourth down is rather pointless.

I hate sports analogies, but think about this for a minute next time you are in a position to "punt."


Punting can feel like a defeat, but there are other times you have to let go of something and pull back, put less effort into something. Punting in this sense is good thing.

Like Hack 17: The mind is the weak point

As I was running the other day in the gym, I felt I wanted to quit before reaching the goal I had set for the day. My legs were tired, I was breathing hard, and I was hot and sweaty. But as I evaluated each of the these three factors in sequence I realized: my legs were not that tired; I was not exerting myself unduly; I was not all that hot. So the weak link in the chain was my mind. So of course I continued to run, ignoring some rather minor discomfort. Because if I had a weak mind, then that in and of itself was not going to stop me! I thought, because the mind itself isn't hot and sweaty and tired.

So what I thought of as the need to have an iron will is just the opposite.  A strong mind is fully aware of its own weakness but doesn't let that weakness get in the way.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Life Hack Update

I've written several more of these life hacks, and have scheduled them to be published on successive days.

One thing I've noticed so far is that I suddenly feel a different relationship to time. Instead of seeing the day as an anxiety-producing challenge: how can I fill it up meaningfully and get something done?  I now am starting to see it as a different sort of challenge.  I know what I want to do, and have to figure out how to make everything fit just right. So it might mean getting up earlier, or consolidating errands, or deciding to make productive use of post-dinner hours. Maybe running early in the morning so it doesn't interrupt other things. Choices, behaviors, habits, seem less compulsive and more freely chosen (more about that later.).

Another revelation: while meditating yesterday it occurred to me that since I was inherently bad at meditating, in other words very distractable and with a mind that can't sit still, that I was a person meant to meditate.  I need it far more than people who are more naturally zen, if such as thing exists. That reframed the process in a way that made it make sense for me.  The worse I am at it, the less I will worry.

(Words in italics here are not exactly right, but are used in a loose sense. I don't do zen and this change was not really sudden, just the articulation of it.)

Life Hack 16: The Gift of Sustained Attention

This is very simple one. It is related to not multi-tasking, but it is is a more simple concept even than that.

Give yourself the gift of sustained attention. For whatever period of time, from 15 minutes to several hours, devote yourself to what ever you are doing and just that.  If you want to play with your phone for 15 minutes, do that, but don't interrupt something else to play with your phone. If you are doing errands, you are errand boy during that time frame. Just be the best errand boy you can be.

The quality of your concentration will improve simply by engaging in this practice. You don't have to worry at first if your attention is not sustained, because that is more the result than the cause. You will be less likely to leave the stove on this way, too.

I call it a gift because it is something that you can give freely to yourself, and without damage to anyone else. It is also a gift in the sense of a talent.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


I'm reading aloud to myself a long book by Clark Coolidge, one of my favorite poets, A Book Beginning With...   It is over 500 pages, and mostly in prose, so I am just doing it a bit per day.  I've done three out of twenty sections so far and haven't' reached the 100 page mark.

It seemed the only way to read this, since passing one's eyes over it one would quickly give up by trying to read too fast or skimming over the text.  This is a text that cannot be skimmed because the point is to be immersed in its textures at great length. Its length, in other words, is part of the point.  I've heard recordings so I know how he reads. I don't emulate that exactly, but I don't try to veer from his style either.  I still hear his voice in my head and just imitate that voice very inexactly.

The first section, on caves, is the best so far.  The Beckett section is a bit less successful, but I'm looking forward to the section on music.

Coolidge invites you into a private world.  He isn't trying to appeal to what he thinks would already appeal to you, but rather invites you into his space.  If you share something of that already, as I do, you might find it congenial.  For example, he has sections on jazz, on Creeley, on Eigner, and on Beckett, so I share those tastes. This isn't literature meant to be "universal," appealing to everyone.

Anyway, incorporating this into my daily routine has been nice. My normal way of reading would be to have three or four different books on the table at any given time, in fear of limiting myself.  

I Joined the Choir

Not a metaphor or life hack. Yesterday I literally joined a local, secular choir in my town. I will attach the "life hack" tag to this, though, because it is part of my general plan for reprogramming my entire life.  I'm not suggesting everyone has to join a choir, because that is not everyone's interest, but it involves getting out and doing something with other people, a good use of time, music, and civic involvement, so it's got four things going for it.

Also, it seems somehow I am driven to involve myself in things my sister can no longer do. She was a choir director as well as being an organist.

Life Hack 15: Meditation

I won't tell you how to meditate because I am a beginner myself. But I will tell you to meditate, somehow in whatever way you find, whether by yourself or as part of some group. What this does is to teach you to quiet down an overactive mind and to clarify things that are important and things that aren't.

I am sure I am a lousy meditator, since my mind wanders everywhere. It doesn't really matter, because the more one does it, the less meaningful that kind of value judgment becomes. If you observe that fact that your mind is especially busy one day, that too is useful information. You don't even have to try to quiet it, in fact, you just observe the fact that it is busier than usual and it will quiet itself to some extent.

Probably the biggest predictor of whether your life is good is the quality of thoughts in your own mind. If you are tormented by negative thoughts night and day, you are not happy. The point of meditation is not to eliminate negative thoughts, but to be more accepting of them and taking away some of their scariness.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Life hack 14: it's not about you

Life hack for today:  it's not about you.  You live in your own skin, and have never been out of it. So it's natural for you to orient other events to your own self. Most events, though, are not primarily about you.  That's the filter you see them through, but most things do not have you as their intended recipient. You'll know when it's about you, because it might have your name on it.

Even then, don't be too sure.  Even your intimate partner's complaint might not really be about you, but about her father or her own life.  The parking ticket you got has your license plate number on it, and you have to pay it, but it isn't about you, because the parking guy just saw your car and an expired meter, nothing more.

Since it's not about you, you don't have to involve yourself in it.  You can relax about it.

A Little Known Fact

Today is the latest day, so far at least, in human history.  Never before has the date been later than it is today. Just so you realize how momentous today is.  Tomorrow, however, will set a new record for history. It will be even one day later than today, the previous record holder.

Each day in record history has also held this record, albeit in temporary fashion. If you read this post much later than it was written, you will be surprised that this date, so much in the past, was at one time the record holder. How quaint of people twelve days ago to think that they were so late in human history.


The correct terminology makes the landscape limpid

We can breathe, finally; as though things occupied their proper place

But the Lydian mode makes me think of Lydia Davis

The Dorian mode of Doric columns

The penumbra of words, like Clark Coolidge inviting you into private

Head-spaces, yet you accept that bargain, somehow

To live among those textures for a while

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Life Hack 13: A Little Emotion Goes a Long Way

There are heavy, emotional things. My older sister has a form of early onset dementia, a frontal temporal lobe dementia that began by affecting her ability to come up with nouns (semantic dementia), and progressed to where ability to understand and produce language is severely compromised. Although this is not Alzheimers, what she has is the equivalent of stage 6, (if that were what she has but it is not).  She is 59 years old and being taken care of by her husband and by my mother, who is 81 and in almost perfect health. The last time I saw my sister, last month, is probably going to be the last time that I see her and that she has some ability to recognize who I am.  So most of the tears I shed in the next few years are going to be about that.  There are also moments of joy in her life, small pleasures and joys and satisfactions, and I cannot imagine anyone being cared for any better. Her caregivers do not spend their days weeping, although there are tough things that they must do.

I've decided to read Dementia Blog, a book by the poet Susan Schultz whom I've met a few times in person. I'd like to see what she does with this subject matter.  I already don't like that she wants to make a political point about this (it was published in the Bush administration). But that probably is a judgment more about me that her. She sees dementia as a loss of the self. I"m sure it is that, but I don't feel that Debbie is someone different than herself.  She is still herself, but with a loss of certain brain functions and the life functions that go with them. She cannot read or write any more (for a few years) and now has given up the keyboard (she was accomplished organist with an advanced degree in church music). In lucid moment, she pointed to her organ and said that she could not play it anymore, and that she knew she had a disease of the brain.  She sometimes doesn't know which end of the spoon to hold.

Anyway, when I say that a little emotion goes a long way, I don't mean that one should be less emotional. Emotion is a kind of bodily signal that you should pay heed to, and even a small amount is telling you something significant. A lot of emotion is sending you a bigger signal about something, and a small flash of anger or disappointment, or a momentary flash of joy, is important information for your brain to pay attention to something.

You don't have to either exaggerate or minimize your emotions, because the big emotions are going to be big no matter what. The emotion is mostly about you, and it's not for others to "validate," even if that might be a nice thing for them to do. Validation is more about parking tickets, to me.

Psychological health

Here is a post quite similar to my awesome life hack 2.  The always brilliant Clarissa has a list of two kinds of activity, like binge watching and pointless channel and web surfing. Those are what I call tier 3 activities.  Then she has a list of other things, like playing music, writing poetry, cooking, and exercising, that belong to what I call the first two tiers.

As you remember, the first tier consists of activities that are valuable for their own sake.  You'd do them even if they didn't produce any other benefit because they are themselves the benefit.  I have a second tier that consists of supportive activities like cleaning and organizing.  You might do these things in order to support the first tier.  Clarissa's solution is more elegant than mine, since that are only two categories.

Footnote to skills

A skill is something that improves with deliberate practice.  In other words, if you want to see if something is a skill, ask yourself whether practice is likely to improve it. If not, then maybe you have misclassified something as a skill that is really some other kind of activity.  Non-skill-like things do not tend to improve with repetition or deliberate effort.

This means that for some skills, your practice might be inadequate. For example, I have known people whose Spanish doesn't ever improve very much. You can be stuck in a plateau and just keep cooking without ever cooking anything better. In some cases there is a limit: you are pretty good at it and you might never get much better. In some cases, the quality of the practice is just not very good. Some people write a bunch and never become good writers. This is mysterious to me, but it might be that they never make a conscious effort to improve, never break down the skill analytically.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Life Hack 12: Imagination

Thomas Basbøll writes: 

"As I read your posts this year, I realize that everything you’re doing has to do with strengthening your imagination. Though you don’t say so explicitly, it seems like you are deliberately trying to maintain your receptivity … to poetry, to music, to food, to pleasure quite generally." 

This is not in itself a life hack, perhaps, but it is an underlying principle of all of them. Strengthen your imagination and thus the core of your appreciation for everything of the best that life offers.  


Pleasure is not very hard to find. The contemplation of nature or the enjoyment of any of the arts is inherently pleasurable, as is the company of good friends, so it's a matter of deliberately cultivating these pleasures. You don't even have to avoid displeasure any more than normal, because a greater receptivity to everything will create a more balanced perspective.  


There are scolds who complain that people are attracted to attractive people, or to food that tastes good. This is almost tautological, though. Adorno scolded that aesthetics should renounce hedone. A lot of people seem to think that depriving oneself makes one a better person, but it really doesn't. I know that certain things are zero sum. So if there is a pie, and I get more of it, then you get less. But basic enjoyment of life works in an opposite way.  If you are happier it is easier for you to make other people happier as well.  

 If your meal tastes good, you are not doing anybody any favors by not enjoying it. One way to not enjoy it is to be so preoccupied with other things that you don't even really taste it.